Johnson and Sunak urged not to cut £20-a-week universal credit ‘lifeline’

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Tom Gordon

Political Editor

BORIS Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak will today come under intense pressure to perform another U-turn in light of the Covid pandemic by abandoning a planned drop in universal credit.

The standard rate of the benefit was increased by £20 a week at the start of the outbreak last April to help struggling families, but the uplift is due to end on Marh 31.

Labour will today force a vote designed to maintain the uplift, ensuring an extra £1040 a year for an estimated 6m families, around 400,000 of them in Scotland.

However Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday called the uplift a “temporary measure” and said the Budget on March 3 would set out support “in the round”.

He also confirmed that Tory MPs would be told to abstain on today’s opposition day motion, which is not binding on the Government.

The motion, which is backed by a number of charities, states: “This House believes that the Government should stop the planned cut in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in April and give certainty today to the six million families for whom it is worth an extra £1,000 a year.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Families across the UK have spent the past year worried for their loved ones, their jobs and security.

“Millions of people have had to juggle childcare with working from home, have seen jobs or incomes cut or been excluded from self-employed support.

“If we don’t give a helping hand to families through this pandemic, then we are going to slow our economic recovery as we come out of it.

“We began 2021 with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy.

“Without action from Government, millions of families face a £1,000 per year shortfall in the midst of a historic crisis.

“We urge Boris Johnson to change course and give families certainty today that their incomes will be protected.”

Mr Sunak reportedly met work and pensions secretary Theresa Coffey last week to discuss a one-off £500 benefit payment to stave off a possible Tory revolt on the change.

Ministers are concerned keeping the £20 uplift in place would see it become permanent,

However the Resolution Foundation warmed a £500 payment now would not help those who lost their job after it was paid.

Citizens Advice Scotland urged Mr Sunak to retain the £20, saying a quarter of its benefits advice now related to universal credit, the main benefit for those on low incomes

Spokesperson Nina Ballantyne said: “In Scotland alone the number of Universal Credit claimants has doubled since January 2020 and to implement a cut of £1,040 a year would be devastating to thousands.

“Key workers in low paid sectors like retail, care and delivery drivers will be among those who need their wages topped up by Universal Credit, and already, families will be worrying about the money stopping and how they’re going to afford food, rent and bills.

“At this critical moment, cancelling the cut is crucial. Keeping the £20 a week lifeline is the right thing to do to help the most vulnerable and help us all build back better.”

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